On the U.S. Air Force's Birthday, a Former Senior Airman Finds His Calling in Golf
By Hayden Lewis, PGA
Joe Galeaz (third from the left) served in the Air Force before discovering a golf career through PGA WORKS.
For many of us, the straight and narrow path can turn out to not be as linear as we had planned. The unexpected turns and doors opened can often lead us down a path we were least expecting.
United States Air Force Veteran and PGA WORKS Fellow Joe Galeaz is no stranger to this narrative.
Growing up in the small, rural town of Campus, Illinois – a little over an hour southwest of Chicago – Joe played just about every sport imaginable.
“I’m pretty sure the population sign still reads about 200 when you cross over the city limits,” notes Joe. “It’s interesting because even though I played all these sports growing up, golf never really piqued my interest.”
As he was finishing up high school, Joe was introduced to golf through a summer job at nearby Kankakee Country Club working as a bag room assistant and in outside services. During this time, Joe was met with a fork in the road.
“Naturally everyone thinks about where they want to attend college, but I was sort of at a point where I didn’t really know what I wanted to spend four years studying,” remembers Joe. “There was the thought of perhaps becoming a doctor, but that quickly faded after learning what my science scores were on the ACT.”
As he continued to explore opportunities, Joe learned more about the military and the United States Air Force through a mutual friend. It was exactly the kind of opportunity that Joe was looking for – something new and exciting.
After enlisting, Joe served for four years as an in-flight refueling specialist, or more commonly referred to as a boom operator, where he traveled quite literally all around the world. His first deployment was at Al Udeid Qatar Air Force Base where he flew 40 flights in just 70 days, each being 6-10 hours long.
“It was very busy and very hot,” says Joe. “I can still remember my first training flight, when they open up that window and you look down from 30,000 feet and see another aircraft approaching your aircraft at over 300 knots. It sinks in pretty quickly that you’re responsible for making that connection successfully."
Today, September 18th, marks the 76th birthday of the U.S. Air Force. Joe looks back on his time in service fondly and believes it has prepared him for those next steps in his career. His time with the U.S. Air Force would take him across the United States and the world – eventually earning Senior Airman ranking in June of 2019.
After he returned, Joe attended Loyola University Chicago, where during his last semester he took a career exploration class and asked himself, "What does that next step in my career look like?"
Another fork in the road.
A pivot from the skies to the course
He immediately flashed back to his time working the bag room, pulling carts and picking range balls at Kankakee while he waited for that first deployment to Qatar.
“I sort of realized in that moment how much I had fallen in love with the game, even in such a short amount of time,” notes Joe. “I got bit by the bug just enough, especially after I had gotten the chance to play a few times. When I realized the challenge that golf presented, this just kept me wanting to come back for more and I just couldn’t stop playing or thinking about it.”
This past May, Joe graduated from Loyola with intentions of pursuing the golf industry as his full-time career. It was at this time he heard about the PGA WORKS Fellowship, a strategic initiative designed by the PGA of America to provide an opportunity for people of diverse backgrounds and recent college graduates to experience a one-year, paid immersion in a PGA Section’s operations. This entry-level employment offers a taste of what a career in the golf industry can provide.
“Looking at the job, I was honestly blown away. The description was an incredible fit for me," he remembers.
Joe applied and landed a job with the team at the Southern Ohio PGA Section. In his role, Joe is supporting the Section's PGA REACH Foundation programming and fundraising efforts. Additionally, he works closely with Section staff to continue the growth behind the PGA HOPE Southern Ohio programs, Junior Tour and more.
Joe is also very aware of the significance he plays in his role as the first U.S. Air Force Veteran to step into the role of PGA WORKS Fellow.
“Not a day goes by that I don’t think about the individuals I served alongside – especially knowing a lot of them are still in service."
“It just means the world to me to have the opportunity to pursue a career that I’m genuinely interested in," he adds, "and not feeling like I’m just going through the motions because it can be tough for a lot of people to transition out of their time in service.”
One of the most rewarding pieces for Joe as a PGA WORKS Fellow is getting to align his background while adding value to the growing presence of PGA HOPE programs in the Section.
Led by PGA Professionals, PGA HOPE (Helping Our Patriots Everywhere) is giving Veterans and active duty military the opportunity to learn and play the game of golf while finding a new sense of wellness and community.
“Even though I’ve only been in this role for a short time, I feel the team puts a lot of trust in me when it comes to PGA HOPE,” says Joe. “It’s cool that I still can use my military background and knowledge of that community and merge it with the golf world through PGA HOPE.”
As for what’s next in Joe’s career, he recognizes the significance behind steps he’s already taken. And similar to his time in the U.S. Air Force, the golf industry is preparing him for future success.
“I know I still have a lot to learn about golf,” says Joe. “But it has been nice to find my place within the PGA WORKS Fellowship specifically by supporting PGA HOPE.”
For Joe, it’s less about the golf and more about sharing something with other Veterans to make them feel like they have a place and sense of community even after their time of service. He even now has his sights set on PGA Membership, and always held the role of teacher in the back of his mind.
“I definitely still have a long way to go, playing-wise,” notes Joe. “I love what PGA Professionals do for the game and getting to work more closely with them has given me that new perspective on perhaps pursuing the profession as my long-term career."
“It’s given me a chance to establish my career and serve as a connecting point to help other Veterans find their way in this life – just like myself – and prove to them it’s not too late to pursue your passions and maybe even try something new."
To learn more about the PGA WORKS Fellowship, visit pgareach.org.